Le Monde today has an interesting piece on the FN's inroads in Normandy, a part of France in which I've just spent several days. As in other regions of France, the FN did well in Sunday's senatorial elections in this region, capturing the votes not only of its own few grands électeurs but also of others not formally affiliated with the party. This suggests not only that traditional anti-FN taboos (associated with Catholicism and trade unionism) are breaking down but also that the FN is reaping the benefit of a broad rejection of "the system" supposedly represented by the mainstream parties of left and right. "System" of course means an amalgam of capitalism, globalization, the EU, the euro, US dominance, borders open to trade and immigration, etc.
In La Manche, where I was staying, the FN leader is Fernand Le Rachinel, a printer and meilleur ouvrier de France. In conversation around the dinner table, I was interested to hear that Le Rachinel presents himself not as an extreme right ideologue but as a political fixer in the classic big-city politician mold--except that he operates in a rural region, one of the world's most beautiful countrysides, where cows graze peacefully in impeccable green fields and the largest industry is the manufacture of butter and cheese. "If you have a problem, Le Rachinel will take you by the arm and offer to solve it," one resident told me. He is everyone's best friend, the region's Godfather. This is retail politics, and it works where soaring speeches about the need to build a unified Europe and make the world safe from terrorism do not. There are lessons here for the mainstream parties, but they don't seem to be learning them.